There is a group of people out there whom Shane McConkey once called “the best skiers in the world,” but its members aren’t the movie stars we worship, or the magazine models we ogle. These skiers charge hard and go big no matter the conditions, and have constitutions of solid steel. Who are they? Competition skiers, of course—ones of the big mountain variety. And there is no higher elite than those on the invitation-only Freeride World Tour. Last year, 29-year-old Kylie Sivell became one of only a handful of North Americans to join the Tour’s Euro-heavy ranks, and one of very few Canadians. What’s more, the Rossland, B.C.-based freeskiing force went on to place fourth overall in her rookie season, including three podiums. This February, she’s poised to send it on her home and native soil for the first-ever Canadian five-star stop, going down at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort in Golden, B.C. But, for Sivell, the real challenge is staying focused on what counts: the fun. —Matt Coté
Just blade it.
I grew up in Thornbury, Ontario, in an area of mostly farming communities, but also most of the skiing in Ontario. I skied with my family at Osler Bluff Ski Club on weekends from the age of two. I was a very hyperactive child and for sure needed the exercise and focus skiing gave me. My dad wanted my sister and I to go into the race program when I was eight, but I wasn’t super interested because of my difficulties concentrating. I knew the race program was busy and had large groups of students, which wasn’t an environment I thrived in. A few of my gal pals had older brothers who had gone into the freestyle mogul program, so my sister and I, along with five of our other girlfriends, gave it a try. I skied moguls competitively until I was 21. I missed the National Team by one spot, two years running.
My first-ever freeskiing contest was the Lake Louise Big Mountain Challenge in 2012. What really got me was, during our athlete safety meeting, the ski patrol got up and reminded the competitors not to drink in the start gate and to keep beers out of sight of the tourists. Coming from the super-regimented world of mogul skiing, it blew my mind, and I thought to myself, "Wow, that’s different."
I try to think of every contest run as just another day of skiing. I’m for sure more nervous before I drop in on a competition run, but I try not to push my skills there. A freeride contest should be where you show what you can do, not what you hope you can do.
Sivell focused on the fall line in Verbier, Switzerland. Photo by Jeremy Bernard / Freeride World Tour
I try not to put pressure on myself to podium or beat another person. That, for me, is what drains the fun out of competing. Whenever I focus on the win, and not the ride, I fall. The only time I really wanted to win was my last qualifying run at Kicking Horse in 2016. At that time, all the ladies were killing it, and there were three of us who could have gone to the World Tour. It all depended who took first place.
I never thought I would be a professional skier, and I’m still learning what that means. I did the Freeride World Tour qualifier contests because they were fun and a great way to travel and meet awesome people. Coming into my rookie season on the actual Tour, I had no expectations for the contests themselves, but I knew I would probably spend a lot of time lost in a foreign country or on a ski hill and feel scared, excited, stressed, happy, jet-lagged, etc. There are so many people that don’t get to do what they love, so I try to soak it up and appreciate every opportunity. Every run I had on the Tour was fun, even if I was nervous at the top.
I think international borders dissolve on the World Tour. English is incredibly universal and having that platform helps everyone to communicate. And everyone automatically has at least one thing in common: they love to shred. You just find the cats you jell with, who have a similar outlook, or who like to ski the same terrain. A lot of differences can dissolve with a good adrenaline rush and a bunch of outward stoke.
I’m so excited to have a five-star event at Kicking Horse this year. I’m stoked to not have to pay an exchange rate, and only be a few hours from home. This is our first event in Canada and I want to do well. I won the last two events I skied at Kicking Horse—the four-star qualifiers in 2015 and 2016. I almost don’t want to mention it, but it does put more pressure on me to perform.
Getting misty at Red Mountain Resort, B.C. Photo by Ryan Flett
I’m not the best at planning, but I want to keep my skiing career fun and interesting. I’m happy now, rocking the Tour, so who really knows what will happen. I would love to start filming, and with a little more time on my hands this season, I hope to make that opportunity for myself. During the off-season I work as a medic. Most recently, I was out at a hydro-electric power-plant project on the B.C. Coast.
I could never have gotten here without the love and support of my parents and family. I lovingly refer to my mother as my “mamager.” There have been so many people this last year who told me they got up at all hours to watch me compete, and that’s so amazing to hear. It’s so nice to know that I have people rooting for me.